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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
telling stories

Imagine that you are walking into a room to try to win a competition against other investment managers, with a hundred million dollars going to the one that is deemed to be the best fit.  Those on the other side of the table have looked at the performance numbers and seen written reviews on those that made the final cut.  After meeting with each one, they’ll make a selection.

In the last posting, I wrote about the difficulties in trying to convey an investment process in graphical form.the research puzzle | “Those who have tried to picture investment process know how difficult it can be to take a complex set of analyses and interactions — that often don’t proceed in an orderly fashion — and present them in a way that’s simple and compelling, yet faithful to what you really do.” There are a number of other challenges that you face in putting together the materials to use during a presentation.  What should be included and what should be excluded?  How should the presentation be pieced together?  Is it robust enough and flexible enough that you’ll be able to adapt to whatever situation you encounter and still get your message across?

There will be many factors involved in the manager selection process, but winning the business will depend on your ability to convey your ideas in an interesting way.  We are all influenced by the power of persuasion and a well-told tale.  That’s true in human endeavors generally, in business for sure, and throughout the investment industry.the research puzzle | I visited this theme earlier in a piece on “narrative power.”

So, the brief time that you have with a prospective client is critical.  Obviously, you want to win the business and you want to avoid saying anything that will cost you dearly when the final decision is made.  (Anyone who has been in these situations can provide examples of a tossed-off phrase that doomed an otherwise good pitch.)  Yet, a stilted and dry presentation is an uninteresting one.  You need to tell the stories that convey who you are and what you do.

Importantly, you need to avoid the inevitable temptation to stretch the truth.  You should help prospective clients understand what they are in for – what might happen under your watch, good and bad, given the range of possible market environments.  The stories you tell should reveal and not obscure.

While we all like to talk about our success stories, the failures we have had can often be more enlightening.  Yet I sometimes see pitch books from investment managers that detail a number of past situations, all of which ended in success.  Everyone knows that the market isn’t that accommodating — you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the things that went wrong.

Some of your stories should be “in your pocket,” ready to go in case you are asked certain inevitable questions.  Trying to cram too much into a presentation is usually counterproductive, yet the tendency is to tell everything you know.  Consequently, you get rushed for time and fail to communicate effectively.

The “stories,” I should say, aren’t just the anecdotes and incidents of your career or bits of market lore — they include the facts about you and your firm.  You see, when I say, “tell stories,” most investment professionals reflexively go into war-story mode.  But I mean something completely different:  Presenting the information in a relaxed (but professional) style and connecting with the decision makers who will decide your fate.  If you win the business, you’ll be presenting to them at review meetings in the future.  Don’t leave them dreading the possibility.

They have only one chance to hear from you.  Make it count.